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Rohingya refugees reject 'unconditional return' to Myanmar

Second repatriation attempt from Bangladesh camps without offering guarantees fails

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Rohingya refugees reject 'unconditional return' to Myanmar

Rohingya refugees stand at an aid distribution point at Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar in this Sept. 2, 2018 file photo. A second attempt to send back hundreds of refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar failed due their unwillingness to return unconditionally. (Photo: Rock Ronald Rozario/ucanews.com)

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A second attempt to repatriate hundreds of Rohingya Muslims from camps in Bangladesh camps failed after the refugees refused to return “unconditionally” to Myanmar.

Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed to repatriate 3,540 Rohingya from three camps in Cox’s Bazar district starting on Aug. 22.

The refugees were picked from a list of containing 22,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh that was handed to a Myanmar delegation last month.

A similar repatriation attempt on Nov. 15 last year failed, following protests from refugees.

This time, the situation was calmer in the camps but yielded the same result.

The attempt came only days before the second anniversary (Aug. 25) of the military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State that forced more than 742,000 Rohingya Muskims to flee to Bangladesh.

Mohammad Abul Kalam, commissioner of the Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC) told journalists at a refugee camp in Teknaf that the repatriation plan was postponed due to the “unwillingness” of refugees.

“We kept five buses and three trucks ready from the morning to take the refugees to repatriation points, but none turned up. During interviews with 295 listed Rohingya families none agreed to return to Myanmar until their demands were met,” Kalam said.

Their demands included a guarantee of citizenship in Myanmar, freedom of movement, repatriation to their home, the return of and reparations for their properties, and international-level security, he said.

However, interviews with other Rohingya families will continue to see whether they are willing to go back unconditionally, he added.

Officials from Myanmar and Chinese embassies as well as the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) were also present at the press briefing. 

This week, officials from the RRRC and UNHCR conducted a series interviews with Rohingya families to seek their opinion about being repatriated to Myanmar.

Muhammad Kamal, 35, a father of three living in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar is one of those listed for return.

“Why should we go back to Myanmar without an assurance of citizenship and security? Myanmar [military] will kill us. We are happy in Bangladesh where there is no fear of death at least,” Kamal told ucanews.com.

“First ensure that our rights will be protected, justice delivered and that repatriation will be to our home not to camps, and we will go back immediately,” he added.

The failure to repatriate the Rohingya is not “a failure” but “a lesson” to be learnt, said Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission.

“The Rohingya crisis is a complex issue, so a repatriation plan can be sustainable if we can ensure that we are addressing root causes of the Rohingya’s plight — their unmet basic rights. Logically, there is no guarantee of a peaceful and dignified life in Myanmar without fulfilling their demands,” Father Gomes told ucanews.com.

“The international community needs to continue pressure, so Rohingya rights are recognized and their repatriation becomes worthwhile,” the priest added.

The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar’s Rakhine State for generations, but many Buddhists consider them “recent illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh.

In various phases since the 1970s, Rohingya have trickled into Bangladesh to escape persecution by successive military governments and elements from Rakhine Buddhist communities.

The 2016 and 2017 military atrocities, described as “ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations, in response to Rohingya militant attacks on security forces, triggered a mass exodus.

Bangladesh, Myanmar and the UNHCR signed a repatriation deal in early 2018, but to date not a single person has been repatriated.

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